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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published January 28, 2014

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Wisconsin wildlife officials monitoring winter's impact on deer herd

MADISON -- With deep snows and cold temperatures persisting since November, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife officials are paying close attention to winter's impacts on the state's deer herd. They are also asking the public to report any observations of winter deer mortalities.

Wildlife managers across the state, and especially in the far north, have received several calls from concerned citizens, according to Kevin Wallenfang, state big game ecologist. "After a tough winter that had an impact on deer numbers in 2013, this certainly isn't what any of us had hoped for," he said.

According to Wallenfang, the 2012-13 winter started out fairly mild, but late, significant snows and cold temperatures occurred well into May resulting in direct losses of deer and lower than average fawn production. These factors and others combined to keep deer numbers lower than desired during the hunting season in many areas across the north.

"For the 2013 hunting season, antlerless permit numbers were set as low as we've seen them since the 1990s," Wallenfang said. "With deer numbers already low in some areas, this winter is going to slow the recovery of the northern herd."

Mike Zeckmeister, district wildlife supervisor in Spooner, says that the first question people usually ask is whether they should start feeding deer.

"It's always well-intended, but feeding can do more harm than good if done improperly," Zeckmeister said. "It's understandable that people want to try to help deer through a bad winter. So if you choose to feed, please talk to the local DNR wildlife biologist first for advice."

Zeckmeister especially emphasized that straight corn and hay are not recommended as they can be harmful. Instead, a commercialized pellet or mixes containing small quantities of corn, plus alfalfa, oats, and soybeans, as well as various vitamins and minerals is preferable from a deer health concern. It should be spread out to reduce fighting, away from roads or snowmobile trails to avoid collisions, and near sheltered areas out of the wind.

Wallenfang also offered a reminder that deer feeding is strictly regulated, and is prohibited in any county affected by CWD. In all other counties, feeding is currently limited to a maximum of 2 gallons per site, must be placed within 50 yards of a dwelling or business building open to the public, and may not be placed within 100 yards of a roadway with a posted speed limit of 45 mph or more.

Again, Zeckmeister urged potential feeders to contact the local wildlife manager to discuss various types of food and techniques that will not harm deer, and for a full explanation of additional regulations.

DNR biologists annually monitor the effects of winter weather on the deer herd using a Winter Severity Index, which uses a combination of cold temperatures and deep snows to gauge winter stress levels. In addition, they are also spending time in the woods monitoring both deer and winter habitat, as well as talking to loggers, foresters, trappers, and others who spend time in the winter woods.

The WSI measurements are recorded annually from December 1 through April 30 at 43 stations spread primarily across the northern third of the state as well as several east-central counties.

"Each day that the temperatures fall below zero degrees Fahrenheit and/or the snow depth is more than 18 inches, the conditions are noted for each station," Wallenfang explained. "For example, a day with 20 inches of snow and a temperature of five-below-zero would receive two points for the day."

Winter conditions are considered mild if the station accumulates less than 50 points, moderate if between 51 and 80 points, severe if between 81 and100, and very severe if over 100. "The index is not a perfect measurement of winter severity, but it gives us a pretty good gauge of what to expect," says Wallenfang.

Wallenfang says that several stations in the far northwestern counties have already surpassed the severe category. Farther south and east, many stations will likely hit the severe classifications later this winter.

As a result, Wallenfang anticipates either zero or extremely limited numbers of antlerless deer permits in many northern counties for the 2014 hunting season.

"Even if winter suddenly turned mild, we would still anticipate some buck only areas in 2014," Wallenfang added. "Deer numbers have declined in general across much of the north, and in some areas significantly in recent years. Low or zero quotas are an obvious step to help herds recover."

"We'll be monitoring the situation across not just the north, but the entire state through spring green-up because we did lose deer in the south last year, as well. We are asking the public to assist with monitoring and would appreciate their help in reporting any winter deer mortality they see to their local wildlife biologist," Wallenfang says.

For more information search the DNR website for "baiting and feeding regulations."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Kevin Wallenfang, Deer and Elk Ecologist, at 608-261-7589 or Mike Zeckmeister, Northern District Wildlife Supervisor, at 715-635-4090.



New generation of winter bikes lead to access questions, safety concerns

Cyclists encouraged to check for access before heading out and be visible

MADISON - The growing popularity winter bicycling and new varieties of bicycle-like vehicles capable of being ridden on snow is generating questions about where they may legally be ridden and raising some concerns about their safe operation with state recreational trail officials.

"We receive daily inquiries this time of year about fat bikes and other vehicles that are showing up on trails," said Brigit Brown, state trails coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Fat bikes are bicycles with wide, low-pressure tires that are designed to traverse over snow and sand. The bikes have gained wide popularity in the last few years with some major bicycle manufacturers now producing and selling them.

In addition, Brown said she has recently received reports of ski bikes -- a bicycle with a ski in the front and a wheel in the back -- operating on DNR trails that are part of the state's snowmobile route system.

"This has led to concern over potential collisions between snowmobilers -- who are traveling at a much higher rate of speed -- and these much slower moving vehicles," Brown said, adding that she is not aware of any such collisions having taken place.

Winter bicycling is allowed on DNR state trails that allow bicycling at other times of the year unless that trail is also currently open to and groomed for cross-country skiing. Walking or biking on a groomed cross-country ski trail is prohibited by DNR rules. Cyclists must still pay the state trail pass fee.

However, most of the state's vast snowmobile trail system (exit DNR) is located on county, federal, or private lands that may prohibit bicycle use.

"Much of the state's extensive snowmobile trail system exists on private lands through agreements with landowners obtained by local volunteers exclusively for snowmobile use," Brown said. Fat bikes are prohibited from use on many snowmobile routes or trails, such as on Bayfield County Forest snowmobile trails. As with any trail, winter cyclists should do their homework before venturing out on a new trail to make sure that theirs is a legal use on that trail.

Even when fat or ski bikes are operating legally on multi-use trails also open to snowmobiling, Brown said, there are safety concerns, especially at night.

The speed limit for snowmobiles at night is 55 mph. Although snowmobilers must slow down to 10 miles per hour when near others not on another motorized vehicle, if a non-motorized user is not readily able to be seen, snowmobilers may not know to slow down until very close to the other user. While there is some question whether ski bikes meet the legal definition of bicycles, Brown said recreational safety specialists say anyone using these multi-use trails at night should have lighting.

"We encourage fat bikers and operators of any other non-motorized vehicles to make themselves visible by using at least front lighting and a rear reflector, and all non-motorized users should wear reflective clothing when on trails open to snowmobiles at night," Brown said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Brigit Brown, 608-266-2183 or Paul Holtan, 608-267-7517



Statewide general permit for fish habitat structures ready to use

MADISON - Lakefront property owners statewide can now more quickly and easily create "fish sticks" habitat near their shoreline to benefit fish and improve fishing, state fisheries and habitat protection officials say.

A new streamlined permit available from the state and an easy step-by-step guide for fish sticks are now available on the Department of Natural Resources website to help foster the projects, which involve placing trees in shallow water and anchoring them on the shore.

""Fish sticks" projects are paying off in northern Wisconsin lakes by providing more critical habitat for fish and insects, birds, turtles and frogs," says Scott Toshner, the Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist who worked with partners on "Fish Sticks" projects that placed hundreds of trees in the Eau Claire chain of lakes in Bayfield and Douglas counties.

"More people wanted to do this same kind of thing on their own shoreland property so DNR created this general permit and a step-by-step guide to make the process easier for them."

Fallen trees provide shelter and feeding areas for a diversity of fish species and nesting and sunning areas for birds, turtles, and other animals above the water, Toshner says. "Nearly all fish species use woody habitat for at least one portion of their life cycle," he says.

"But fallen trees have been removed from the water in many areas. "Fish sticks" add to the natural complexity of the near-shore area by restoring woody habitat that was removed during shoreline development."

Interest in Fish Sticks projects to restore this woody habitat has been growing throughout Wisconsin and the region, says Martye Griffin, the DNR waterway science policy coordinator. DNR responded by converting the existing general permits for fish habitat projects (Fish Crib, Half-Log, Spawning Reef, Wind Deflector and Tree Drop) to a statewide general permit, and added standards for fish sticks.

The new general permit allows property owners on lakes to have a streamlined permitting process to submerge groups of trees near their shoreline, Griffin says.

"The streamlined permit process is less costly and can be reviewed in less time," he says. It also allows for fish sticks sites constructed in later years and by different property owners on the same lake to "add on" to an existing approved permit without a new application fee - something the DNR has never done before, he says. Even though an 'add on' site may not require an application fee, the sites are still reviewed the same way as a new site.

The general permit identifies the location, design, and other standards and conditions these beneficial projects must meet to qualify for the general permit and to ensure minimal impacts to public rights in the waterway.

Step-by-step guide

In addition, DNR created a new, step-by-step guide for landowners who are interested in developing a fish sticks project. "It provides instructions to plan and complete a project, including equipment needed, site suggestions, and potential funding sources."

More information on the general permit and to access the fish sticks guidance documentis available by searching the DNR website for "Fish Sticks."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Toshner, 715-372-8539 Ext. 121; Martye Griffin, 608-266-2997



Register now for Lake Michigan yellow perch summit

CHICAGO - A yellow perch summit for Lake Michigan anglers and other interested stakeholders is set for March 22 as state agencies and tribes seek to improve management of the fish fry favorite. Two decades of cooperative actions by state management agencies have prevented a complete collapse of yellow perch but have been unable to reverse the species' decline in Lake Michigan, state fisheries officials say.

"Despite a complete closure of commercial fishing and restrictive angling regulations by all the management agencies around Lake Michigan, the yellow perch population has not recovered," says Mike Staggs, Wisconsin's fisheries director. "This workshop will be a forum to update the public on what we've learned and discuss what direction we should go in the future on yellow perch management."

yellow perch
A March 22 yellow perch summit aims to enlist anglers in determining what direction to take to increase populations of yellow perch in Lake Michigan.
WDNR Photo

The summit, hosted by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, will be held at the UIC Forum, at 725 W. Roosevelt Road in Chicago. It will feature invited experts presenting the latest research on Lake Michigan ecology, yellow perch populations, fishing and management. The afternoon session will consist of small group breakout sessions where participants can comment on the information presented and provide input to Lake Michigan fishery managers.

Registration is free Great Lakes Fisheries Commission (exit DNR) website until March 15, after which a $20 fee will be charged. People also can participate via the web at a link provided them after they register.

Brad Eggold, DNR southern Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor and chair of the Lake Michigan Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, encourages Wisconsin anglers to attend the summit in person or via the web and to weigh in.

"This yellow perch summit will give Wisconsin stakeholders the chance to listen to the latest information on not only yellow perch but on all aspects of the Lake Michigan ecosystem," Eggold says.

"In addition, breakout sessions will provide an avenue for stakeholder comment and input into future management actions. This should be a very informative summit and I hope stakeholders will plan to attend or view the meeting via our webinar link."

Eggold says that possible steps by the management jurisdictions may include changes to yellow perch management, assessment and/or research.

Twenty years ago, a yellow perch summit was convened by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to respond to what at that time was a rapid, lake-wide decline in abundance of yellow perch. Significant numbers of yellow perch were not surviving their first year, which meant the aging adult populations were not being replaced readily by new generations of perch in Lake Michigan.

A yellow perch task group was created and developed and implemented a research strategy to explore the causes of declining yellow perch populations. Wisconsin and other states closed the commercial perch fisheries in their waters and adopted restrictive bag limits and closed seasons to help preserve spawning age adults.

At the March 22 meeting in Chicago, participants will learn about research results and management information resulting from those actions, Eggold says.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission was established in 1955 by the Canadian-U.S. Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries. The commission coordinates fisheries research, controls the invasive sea lamprey and facilitates cooperative fishery management among the state, provincial, tribal and federal management agencies.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Brad Eggold, 414-382-7921



Winter entries needed for 2015 Friends of Wisconsin State Parks calendar

MADISON - Winter visitors to Wisconsin State parks, forests, trails and recreation areas are being encouraged to take their cameras with them on their next trip so they can snap some great winter photos to enter in the contest for the 2015 Friends of Wisconsin State Parks calendar.

"Now is the time to get out and get those winter shots," says Patty Loosen, Friends of Wisconsin State Parks coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources.

Loosen said entries for the contest must fit into one of the four seasons, and that "we're always in need of great winter shots for our photo contest."

Wisconsin state park properties and the many friends groups across the state sponsor many events throughout the winter that could provide photo opportunities. Search the DNR website for "get outdoors," to find a list of activities, such as candlelight skis, snowshoe hikes and winter festivals. Photographs must portray a specific Wisconsin state park, forest, trail or recreation area.

Again in 2015, the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks calendar will be included in the November-December issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. 2014 was the first year the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks Calendar [PDF] was included in Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

Submissions are only accepted from amateur photographers ages 14 and over. Professional photographers who earn more than half of their income taking pictures are not eligible. Employees of the DNR and board members of the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks and their immediate family members are not eligible to win. Photographs must have been shot within the past three years (since Jan. 1, 2012) and no more than four photos may be entered.

"Details on the photo contest will be available later this spring on the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks (exit DNR) website, but until then, we would love to have state park and trail visitors get out and take some winter shots at their favorite state park property," Loosen said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Patricia Loosen, Friends of Wisconsin State Parks coordinator, 608-264-8994



Order DNR seedlings and plant a legacy for Wisconsin's future

Help Wisconsin's environment this spring by planting trees

MADISON -- The Wisconsin State Nursery Program sells high-quality native tree and shrub seedlings to landowners to plant on their Wisconsin land. The seedlings may only be used for conservation purposes including forest products, wildlife habitat and erosion control. The state seedlings may not be resold, nor used for landscaping, decorative or Christmas tree production.

"Trees help in so many ways," said Pat Murphy, state nursery program team leader for the Department of Natural Resources. "Trees provide wildlife habitat, materials for the state's strong forest products industry, protect soils from erosion and do much to improved air and water quality. Trees also sequester carbon from the atmosphere and add beauty to our surroundings."

Landowners are encouraged to get professional planting advice from local DNR foresters, state nursery staff or other professional foresters. The minimum order is 300 seedlings and must be ordered in increments of 100 of each species. Larger orders received price reductions.

To learn more, contact the Wisconsin State Nursery Program at 715-424-3700, or go to and search the keywords, "tree planting."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Pat Murphy - 715-424-3760


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, January 28, 2014

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